How New Words Get Added to the Scrabble Dictionaries (Yes, Dictionaries, Plural)

Thanks to Peter Sokolowski from Merriam-Webster, I was able to attend and record interviews with some of the world’s most knowledgable and accomplished Scrabble players. We talked about a controversy about which dictionary to use for official scrabble play, some interesting new words that were recently added to the official word lists, and how to set up a Scrabble club in your school and have your kids compete in the national school Scrabble championship.

Mignon Fogarty
9-minute read
Episode #477

Early Scrabble Dictionaries and How New Words Get Added to the Lists

Fogarty: A few interesting tidbits are that the first dictionary used in North American Scrabble back in the ’70s was called Funk & Wagnalls, which you may remember from skits if you ever watched the TV show Laugh-In where they would say, “Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls!” 

And, if you’ve never looked at a Scrabble dictionary, you may be surprised because it has only the barest of definitions. 

Chew: There’s only one meaning there to remind you what the word is and what part of speech it is, and there won’t be additional nuances or meanings. A lot of words are just defined as “a mineral,” or “a tropical plant,” or “a monetary unit.” It’s a very different way of looking at the language. 

Fogarty: And it annoys Scrabble players that regular dictionaries don’t include the official plural of words. 

Chew: For instance words like mankind, should it take an S? Maybe, maybe not. Should we talk about alternative realities in which there might be different mankinds or different timelines? If in such a context it would be legitimately possible to legitimately pluralize a word, does that still make it a word that ought to be acceptable in Scrabble? And these are questions regular dictionaries don’t answer much to the chagrin of Scrabble players, and this is why we have official Scrabble dictionaries.

Fogarty: And the lexicographers at Merriam-Webster are the final arbiters of whether mankinds is a playable plural of mankind. And it’s not, at least not in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. A word they did recently add to the official list though is xed, as in “He xed out the name,” even though single-letter words usually aren’t allowed. Jim Pate, a retired librarian from Birmingham, Alabama who’s been either a member or chair of the NASPA dictionary committee for about 20 years, explains:

Pate: The letter X was interesting because it was the only letter that had two infections. xed, meaning “to cross out,” and x-ing, meaning “crossing out,” and so I and others were for including xed in this list. It didn't get included then, but in the most recent dictionary, word list update, we threw it in the hopper again, and it got included. So it’s the part tense of “to mark out.” 

Fogarty: X-ing didn’t make it in though because x-ing always has a hyphen and words with punctuation aren’t allowed. 

Jim notes that the dictionary committee turns in two lists to Merriam-Webster: One list of words they’re sure about, and another list of words that are more questionable, such as mankier.

Pate: One of the iffy things is When can an adjective be inflected to -er or -ier? When it’s a certain length? When it has a certain usage or meaning? So a lot of those things were on our “I think it might be a good word, but we don’t know.”

Fogarty: What’s an example?

Pate: Mankier

Fogarty: Manky essentially means “bad—worthless, dirty, rotten,” and the lexicographers agreed that one thing can be mankier than another, so mankier is good, official Scrabble word.

The NASPA dictionary committee looks at a lot of different dictionaries as they’re making the list of potential new words to submit to Merriam-Webster, and in this last round they included a Canadian dictionary in the mix—and that gave them some interesting new words from Canadian Native American Tribes such as the Inuit.

Pate: In Canada, just like in the United States, there are native tribes that use certain letters to represent a sound, Q for example, so in this latest update of the official word list you can spell kayak Q-A-J-A-Q because the sound is there, and they use those letters to represent. It’s a very strange looking word, which raises a few eyebrows. 

Fogarty: It’s probably worth a lot of points.

Pate: It certainly is, but there’s only one Q in the set, so to make that word, you’d have to make one of the blanks a Q and then get the points from the Q and the J.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

You May Also Like...